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  1. Default pulling camper from michigan to yellowstone, can we "wing it" along the way

    we are going from michigan to yellowstone in sept, pulling a camper, and we didnt want to make reservations along the way. We have reservations in yellowstone, and at custer on the way home. We wanted to just pull off were ever we made it, and either hit a rest area, or a parking lot on the way. Is this safe? Legal? This is our first long trip so we are a little unsure of what to expect along the way.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    May 2011
    Central Missouri


    Welcome to RTA!

    Rest areas in different states each have their own rules about overnight stays. You will probably note as you pull in, what the maximum stay is. If it's generally approved, it still doesn't mean you're going to be able to pull out chairs, grills, etc. It's an overnight "safety stop". (If by "camper" you mean a tent trailer, or "pop up", it probably is NOT allowed. I know of few states that will allow you to pop it up in a rest area.) Is it safe? Not always. Personally, we would never overnight in a rest area.

    Parking lot -- same as the rest area. For instance, our local Walmart has signs all over, forbidding overnight stays, because it's a community ordinance. But two towns over, it's perfectly OK. Once again, though, this is assuming you are in a 5W or travel trailer, not a pop-up tent trailer.

    If you're in a trailer, your best bet is actually one of the many truck stops that allow overnight parking. Ask at the desk, and you'll be directed to a place for recreational trailers. If you are asked to park with the big rigs, make sure that your rig is visible to a trucker who is looking for a place to put HIS rig. Nothing is more disturbing to either party than a trucker who thought your parking spot was empty. Also, make sure you do some business with the truck stop to show your appreciation for the "free overnight" -- either get gas or buy food there.

    Other suggestions would be to locate state parks and national forests along your routes, and stay in one of their inexpensive campgrounds. Those will only set you back $15-20 (a little more if you are lucky and find one with hookups) and, if you are traveling with kids, provide a great place for running off all the stored energy from the long trip in the tow vehicle.

    I'm glad you had the forethought to get reservations in Yellowstone. Even in September, the sites there fill quickly, as do the ones near Mt Rushmore and Custer State Park.


  3. #3
    Join Date
    May 2003
    Green County, Wisconsin


    Welcome to the RTA Forum!

    In september, reservations at campgrounds shouldn't be essential. However, I would use some caution about a plan to just pull over. Finding places that are safe and legal to stop overnight requires a bit of thought. Rest Areas generally are not a safe place to spend the night. Some walmarts and other businesses may allow it, but many will not. Truck stops are a good bet. However, in any of these cases, you cant appear to be camping. You should avoid using slide outs or anything similar. It is customary to also make a purchase from any business that lets use use their property for parking.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Tucson, AZ

    Default Well, Scarlet

    Welcome aboard the RoadTrip America Forums!

    If you are going to rely on the kindness of strangers, you are in for disappointment. Let's run down the practicalities of what you propose. "Pulling off wherever" will almost certainly mean that you are trespassing on somebody else's property. You can expect a mid-night visit from the local constabulary (if you're lucky) or, as you get farther west, from the heavily armed owner. In either case you are going to have to move on. "Hitting a rest area" is illegal in almost every state and terribly unsafe. Again expect a visit from the local constabulary (if you're lucky) or an armed intruder (if you're not). "Parking lots" are private property (see above). The number of outlets allowing such a practice are few and getting fewer. And those that do generally prohibit you from 'setting up camp', meaning that there can be no outward indication that you are doing anything but parking. No pop-ups, no pull-outs, no lawn chairs, etc. In other words, IF you can park, you are a prisoner in your rig for the duration. Perhaps you're only viable option for such boondocking is to use major truck stops along the Interstates. These will usually allow you to park (again, park not camp) overnight on the expectation that you will patronize their store/restaurant/showers. These are also relatively safe because they are well lit and there is activity going on through the night - two things that also make them unattractive for 'parking'.

    Personally, I'd plan my trip out at least to the point that I'd know roughly where I'd need to be each night in order to keep on schedule, find out what state parks and national forests are in that area and what they offer in terms of campsites and costs. And plan on using them. You can easily waste more time (and time is money) trying to 'wing it' each evening than you can possibly save by trying to use someone else's property without their permission.


  5. #5
    Join Date
    Dec 2008
    Melbourne, Australia

    Default Public Lands.

    Echoing all of the above. The only rest areas where it is safe to overnight is where they have armed guards, such as FL and parts of MS.

    Truck stops are by far the safest places to stop and sleep in your rig - not camp. I do it for much of my trips. And even though I have seen them, it does not seem suitable for families. Children can't run around, even if it was desirable, it would be far too dangerous with all the traffic coming and going.

    For safety and sanity I would definitely go with public lands campgrounds as mentioned above.


  6. #6
    Join Date
    Jul 2007
    South of England.

    Default 'Winging' it partly planned.

    As mentioned, you shouldn't have to much trouble finding a campground without reservations away from popular landmarks, but it doesn't mean you shouldn't do a little research and see what options there are along your route and make a note of them so you have a rough idea of where you might stay. Keep in mind that finding 'free' or 'cheap' camping can add miles to your trip, costing you both time and money. Also the fact that you can get tempted to the point that you travel too far and are suddenly hit by a wall of tiredness, yet you still have to drive and look around for some place to sleep before setting up your camper and that could be in the dark on narrow roads. So, do your research and see what options you have, so that 'winging it' becomes partly planned, you could even call ahead to check availability.

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